"It’s always the bush league schools," Coulter contends
By Zev Singer and Kristy Nease, Ottawa CitizenMarch 24, 2010
Reuters OTTAWA — After protesters at the University of Ottawa prevented Ann Coulter from giving a speech Tuesday night, the American conservative writer said it proved the point she came to make — free speech in Canada leaves much to be desired.
Then she said what she really thought of the student protesters who surrounded Marion Hall, making it to unsafe, in the view of her bodyguard, for the pundit to attempt entry.
“The University of Ottawa is really easy to get into, isn’t it?” she said in an interview after the cancelled event. “I never get any trouble at the Ivy League schools. It’s always the bush league schools.”
Coulter said she has been speaking regularly at university campuses for a decade. While she has certainly been heckled, she said this is the first time an engagement has been cancelled because of protesters.
“This has never, ever, ever happened before — even at the stupidest American university,” she said.
Coulter remarked on the reception she has had since entering the country.
“Since I’ve arrived in Canada, I’ve been denounced on the floor of Parliament — which, by the way, is on my bucket list — my posters have been banned, I’ve been accused of committing a crime in a speech that I have not yet given, I was banned by the student council, so welcome to Canada!”
The “accusation” of which Coulter speaks is a reference to an e-mail she received from University of Ottawa vice-president and provost Francois Houle on Friday, warning her that freedom of speech is defined differently in Canada than in the U.S. and that she should take care not to step over the line.
Coulter said that letter set the tone for and encouraged the protesters. She said it’s well known on the campus speaking circuit that conservatives need to travel with security staff, as she did.
“I’m pretty sure little Francois A Houle does not need to travel with a bodyguard,” she said. “I would like to know when this sort of violence, this sort of protest, has been inflicted upon a Muslim — who appear to be, from what I’ve read of the human rights complaints, the only protected group in Canada. I think I’ll give my speech tomorrow night in a burka. That will protect me.”
Canadian conservative political commentator Ezra Levant, the other speaker travelling with Coulter on the three-city tour, presented by the International Free Press Society of Canada, told the half-filled hall that no more people would be able to enter and that Coulter had been advised it would not be safe for her to appear.
Coulter’s bodyguard ultimately made the judgment, after conferring with security staff on site.
In a short speech, Levant said Tuesday was “an embarrassing day for the University of Ottawa and their student body, who could not debate Ann Coulter . . . who chose to silence her through threats and intimidation, just like their vice-president did.”
Levant laid the blame squarely on Houle.
“A fish rots from the head down,” he said. “Francois Houle got his wish. He telegraphed to the community that the University of Ottawa is not a place for free debate.”
Houle could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Levant said the spectacle showed “just how eroded our Canadian values of free speech have become” — especially on university campuses.
“I think this has turned into a teaching moment for the entire country, a reminder that freedom of speech is a Canadian value,” he said.
Rita Valeriano was one of several protesters inside the hall who, with chants of “Coulter go home!” shouted down the International Free Press Society of Canada organizer who was addressing the crowd.
Valeriano, a 19-year-old sociology and women’s studies student, said later that she was happy Coulter was unable to speak the “hatred” she had planned to.
“On campus, we promise our students a safe and positive space,” she said. “And that’s not what (Coulter) brings.”
Outside the hall, Sameena Topan, 26, a conflict studies and human rights major at the U of O, spoke to the Citizen on behalf of a group of protesters.
“We have a large group of students that can very clearly outline the difference between discourse and discrimination,” Topan said of the protest. “We wanted to mobilize and make sure that’s clear on campus, that there’s a line between controversy and discrimination, and Ann Coulter has crossed it. Numerous times.”
“We had concerns about (the event) at the beginning, but especially after we saw what happened at the University of Western Ontario, when she called out a Muslim girl there and was saying she needs to take a camel because Muslim people shouldn’t fly. That kind of stuff just reaffirmed everything that we were afraid of and that’s when . . . we really got worried.”
Topan was pleased to hear the students behind her shout, “Hate speech cancelled!” in unison.
“I think that’s great. I think we accomplished what we were here to do, to ensure that we don’t have her discriminatory rhetoric on our campus,” she said.
Jonathan Reid, 18, a Carleton political science student and a fan of Coulter, brought a book to be signed.
During the protest outside after the event was cancelled, Reid and a group of other students shouted a counter-chant, “No more commies on our campus!,” while pumping their fists. The Coulter protesters moved forward to face them, and TV crew lights lit angry faces.
“It’s a shame,” Reid said of the cancellation. “They claim we’re the intolerant ones, yet they’re the ones who refuse to allow a Conservative speaker to come to campus. That is the definition of intolerance.”
U of O political science student Faris Lehn, 23, said he doesn’t support Coulter’s message, but had hoped for a debate.
“It’s too bad she didn’t get to speak because I think she would have made herself look more ridiculous than anyone here could have made her look,” Lehn said.
“The problem with Ann Coulter . . . is that the arguments that she uses don’t necessarily promote good debate, they promote this,” he said, glancing at the chanting crowd.